During the last few years, Germany has experienced a major rise in immigration: in 2015 alone, more than a million people have claimed asylum in the country. Many of those people are qualified professionals, and quite a few have previously worked in the media.
It is not uncommon for journalists to move to another country under pressure from their home authorities, and many of them come to Europe.
There are many exiled journalists in Germany, who, even when qualified, face a lot of difficulties getting back into their profession.
In response to this situation, several educational programme have been started. One of them is Journalists in Exile, organised by Neue Deutsche Medienmacher (NDM; New German Media Makers) and Hostwriter.
During the length of the programme, 25 journalists from Syria, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Somalia and Russia will work in pairs with experienced German journalists and attend workshops.
NDM was started in 2009 with the goal to make German media more diverse. Since then, it has been running a mentoring programme for young journalists from a migrant background, selecting ten aspiring journalists each year, and helping them to get in touch with German media professionals and start their careers.
Many used refugees as stringers. However, they rarely quoted them as co-authors or paid them for their workRebecca Roth, NDM
Last year, Rebecca Roth, the organiser of the programme, had the idea to start a similar initiative for exiled journalists, a need highlighted by the increase in the coverage of the refugee crisis at the time. The programme officially started at the beginning of July.
"Many German journalists were already getting in touch with refugees when they needed to cover the topic. Many used refugees as stringers. However, they rarely quoted them as co-authors or paid them for their work. Our programme builds on this practice, encouraging exiled and German journalists to work together, for mutual profit," said Roth.
Ursula Vosshenrich, an editor at Radio Berlin-Brandenburg, a public service radio in Berlin, is taking part in the programme as a mentor. She is quick to name the benefits of working with journalists with diverse backgrounds.
“Berlin is an international city, and the media should reflect it. I have worked in radio for over 20 years, and I don’t think that we have enough diversity in our newsroom. The situation is changing, and nowadays we have more journalists from a migrant background ‒ mostly Turkish ‒ but it is still not enough.
"We really feel it now, when we need to cover the events in Turkey, and don’t have enough journalists who speak Turkish.”
Vosshenrich, who edits the cultural section on RBB, is mentoring Khalid Al Aboud, a radio journalist from Syria, who was invited to Germany by Reporters Without Borders.
Al Aboud used to work in Daraa, Syria, but was forced to leave the country soon after the war started. He lived in Jordan for two years, reporting on the refugee crisis for the local and international media, and moved to Germany in the autumn of 2014.
Here, he works with Vosshenrich and journalist Chadi Bahouth, discussing cultural events in Berlin and offering a different point of view.
A different perspective was what Vosshenrich was looking for when she partnered with the two journalists. They discuss various city news, from the Green Week to the local elections or an exhibition of war photography.
RBB is interested in having foreign journalist' take on the everyday life in Berlin, and their reminiscences about life in their countries of origin.
“Of course, Khalid often remembers Syria. For example, in a recent report about the Green Week, he talked about a flower exhibition he saw in Syria," said Vosshenrich.
I hope that I can go back to Syria, but with experience, plans, new skills, and a lot of informationKhalid Al Aboud, radio journalist
"Such details are important, we want to show our public that Syria used to be a different country, with a normal cultural life, with flower exhibitions, just as we want to show that the refugees aren't simply victims of war, they are doctors, academics, and builders. They can make a valuable contribution to our society.”
The mentor and the mentee started working together before the programme had officially started, and Al Aboud has already produced about 15 reports.
He plans to stay in Germany for a while, but wants to return to Syria one day. “I hope that I can go back to Syria, but with experience, plans, new skills, and a lot of information," he said. "I will go there knowing Berlin, the city that was destroyed during the war, but was rebuilt. I need to collect all this knowledge, and then go back to Syria – I just don’t know when.”
Wanting to go home is not uncommon for exiled journalists. Shammi Haque, a journalist from Bangladesh who blogs about LGBT issues and women’s rights, is quick to say that she “dreams of going back home every night.”
Haque came to Germany last October, when she was forced to flee her country after extremists started killing secular bloggers and published a hit list.
She used to work at a well-known business daily, and never planned to leave the country. But as the threat against her increased, she decided to flee. These days, she’s trying to rebuild her career in Germany. The Bangladeshi media refuse to publish her work out of fear, and she isn’t sure whether she can ever go back.
I heard more than once that I am giving the exiled journalists false hope. It can be true, to an extent, but the situation in the media is changingRebecca Roth, NDM
Her mentor is a freelance TV journalist who is teaching her the basics of the German media system. Haque has already written for Deutsche Welle, and continues her blog.
She wants to continue writing about women’s rights and show the difference between Germany and her own country. “I feel so free here in Germany. In Bangladesh, sexual harassment is unavoidable… I used to be constantly on guard. Here, I have finally relaxed. So far, my experience has been very positive, and I felt very safe. But I have lived 20 years in a very conservative society and want to tell about that.”
Roth acknowledged it can be very hard to start a journalistic career in Germany, and it is even harder for people who aren’t native German speakers. Felix Franz, Hostwriter collaborator, also highlighted language as the biggest challenge journalists have to face. He sees collaboration between German and foreign journalists as the main means to overcome it.
“Language is really important for all kinds of journalism, and it will take people a very long time until they get perfect at German. But they can already take part in writing good stories by collaborating with their German colleagues.”
As part of the mentorship programme, Hostwriter is organising networking events and workshop. One of the events, due to take place in the autumn, will be focused on the mentees pitching stories, joined not only by their mentors but by journalists from all around Germany in order to help them start new collaborations.
“When we started this programme," Roth said, "I heard more than once that I am giving the exiled journalists false hope, that they won’t be able to get jobs in Germany. It can be true, to an extent, but the situation in the media is changing.
"The media who have collaborated with refugees had overwhelmingly positive examples, and we can only hope that this trend continues. And then, who knows, maybe they will start their own outlets.”
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